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The series of practical-theoretical seminars are supposed to create a multi-dimensional and dynamic classroom setting where B.A. and M.A. students can actively learn theoretic, aesthetic and technical know-how and enter into research at the same time. By combining exercises with practical skills in filmmaking and asking students to select their research topics, it will be possible for the students to approach themes following the current turn within film studies towards the phenomenology of film production. The series of seminars will focus on the research of the performative and relational aspects of documentary film production and performance techniques for non-professional actors (methods of co-production).

The seminars are structured to interlink practical teaching in performance and filmmaking with theoretical discussions in two central arenas of the field. Firstly, speculative fiction in hybrid documentaries, a method using narrative devices from Italian neo-realism to produce audiovisual narratives that empower marginalized communities, such as migrants, refugees and dispossessed minorities. Secondly, performance in conflict mediation and resolution, where theatrical and performance techniques as social theater, theater for development and (p)reenactment are used to base film productions where antagonistic groups are brought together to explore and develop future political scenarios.

In these experimental performances, they have a chance to bring resolution to their conflicts and develop strategies for a peaceful and mutually enriching relationship. Therefore, by integrating research into the classroom experience for students in a novel and meaningful format, the TFM institute at the Goethe-Universität and unit Culture & Media, Department of Social Work at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences (FUAS) can provide undergraduates with a high-level immersion in research activities which approaches crucial topics of the field in a unique practice and theoretical way, thus benefiting both students and faculty.

The series of practical-theoretical seminars are supposed to create a multi-dimensional and dynamic classroom setting where B.A. and M.A. students can actively learn theoretic, aesthetic and technical know-how and enter into research at the same time. By combining exercises with practical skills in filmmaking and asking students to select their research topics, it will be possible for the students to approach themes following the current turn within film studies towards the phenomenology of film production. The series of seminars will focus on the research of the performative and relational aspects of documentary film production and performance techniques for non-professional actors (methods of co-production).

The seminars are structured to interlink practical teaching in performance and filmmaking with theoretical discussions in two central arenas of the field. Firstly, speculative fiction in hybrid documentaries, a method using narrative devices from Italian neo-realism to produce audiovisual narratives that empower marginalized communities, such as migrants, refugees and dispossessed minorities. Secondly, performance in conflict mediation and resolution, where theatrical and performance techniques as social theater, theater for development and (p)reenactment are used to base film productions where antagonistic groups are brought together to explore and develop future political scenarios.

In these experimental performances, they have a chance to bring resolution to their conflicts and develop strategies for a peaceful and mutually enriching relationship. Therefore, by integrating research into the classroom experience for students in a novel and meaningful format, the TFM institute at the Goethe-Universität and unit Culture & Media, Department of Social Work at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences (FUAS) can provide undergraduates with a high-level immersion in research activities which approaches crucial topics of the field in a unique practice and theoretical way, thus benefiting both students and faculty.

Concept Konzept

In the 1960s, the intensity and speed of the circulation of images, sounds, texts, iconographies, inside and outside the public sphere have highlighted the capacity of new media to polarize the world between actors and spectators. Guy Debord associated this redefinition of the political process with the notion of a society of the spectacle. Debord recognized the systematic and non-incidental aspects of the transformation of all spheres of experience into an image and pointed out how it dissolves lived experience into the spectacularization of social relations. Therefore, having a camera aimed at itself has become an “ontological privilege” that generates exhibitionist anxiety. This “camera effect” is an element that structures certain situations in which theatricality and performance are inevitable, and for Debord, what marks the society of the spectacle is the sharp opposition between the actors of the game and their passive spectators.

Cinema has thematized this logic in different ways, notably in documentaries, when it seeks alternatives for dealing with the camera effect and directing it towards the construction of subjects as characters. As proposed by Esther Hamburger, different films and television programs, in the record of fiction and documentary, express different forms of appropriation of the mechanisms which produce a representation, whose control is intertwined with the mechanisms reproducing social inequality. The visibility obtained by marginalized social subjects, systematically subjected to violence and misery, has relevance in contrast to the hegemonic forms of representation produced by the mass media. The challenge here is to produce a representation and a discourse which serves to emancipate these subjects, and not reify their condition as powerless victims of systemic violence. Thus, contrary to popular belief, the task of the documentary is not solely and exclusively to remove ordinary people from an undifferentiated domain to fix them on a framed particularity – to document them, but to offer them the chance to exhibit the simultaneous appearance of its multiple faces, irreducible to a proposition or a given content conforming with the narrative agenda of the filmmaker.

According to Jean Comolli, it would be up to film to promote the passage between two modes of individuation of the subjects into characters, two kinds of mise-en-scène: one that comes from habit, “a plot of learned gestures, acquired reflexes, postures assimilated” by subject, and that other that the subject constructs by placing himself in the space and time defined by the gaze of the other, or auto-mise-en-scène. How the film makes this relationship depends on the figuration of the subject filmed. This process is expressed within Hybrid documentaries inspired in narrative devices developed by Italian neo-realism as Docudramas, Docufictions and Mockumentaries. One example is the Docufiction “White out, Black in” (2014) from the Brazilian director Adirley Queirós. The original concept of the film was to be a documentary about police brutality and racism against the marginalized black community in Brazil. Initially, the subjects refused to participate in the documentary because the pain and the grief in dealing with these issues were overwhelming. They also did not want to be constructed as victims of structural racism, thus made to fit prevailing discourses about people on the margins of capitalist societies. Queirós then proposed them to make a sci-fi movie, based on their real-life stories and with documental material, but at the same time allowing them to perform a fictional script, speculating about a future scenario where they would be empowered to bring justice to the Brazilian state and create a rupture in the systemic violence they suffer daily.

Another example is the work of Portuguese director Pedro Costa, who cooperated closely with marginalized Cabo-Verdean migrants and drug users of the Fontainha slum in Lisbon to make a series of critically acclaimed films. In the films, they re-enact themselves in their daily lives, but not under a perspective of oppression, but of dignity, empowerment and resilience. Beyond the visibility achieved in the public arena – – which frames the dispute over identity representations, these films used narrative and performative strategies aiming to achieve an original expression, one where the subjects are given the opportunity for affirmative, which action reveals itself in front of the camera, from the conversation with the filmmaker and the confrontation with the gaze and the cinematic apparatus.

This idea of creating an event where subjects construct a narrative of empowerment is also explored in performance studies, especially in performances working within speculative fiction and fabulation. Particularly impressive is the concept of (P)reenactment developed by Cirzak et al. (2019). For the authors, (p)reenactment is a reenactment performance which not only revises or replicates a past event but orients itself toward an imagined future and experiments with a fictional time and space. This type of performance emphasizes the fundamental interconnectedness and interdependence of pro- and retrospection as well as the instability of each temporal perspective. Therefore, this entanglement of temporal layers forms an affectively charged situation that opens up a realm for subjects to speculate on new possibilities of being and attuning into the world. As (p)reenactments work to repeat or reinforce their current social relations, not only they may expose or question prevailing power relations, but also through the embodied performance they can experiment with alternatives bringing affective change to subvert these power structures.

The potential for (p)reenactment combined with speculative fiction and filmmaking lies not only into creating a new form of representation but also has been researched for its psychological and therapeutic capabilities, where children with PTSD create fictional characters of themselves and record their performances on film, watch them and recognize their projections of self displayed through the performance. Filmmaking and performance are also being used in conflict-resolution in a project devised by Esther Nyam of the Plateau State University at Bokkos, Nigeria, through the re-enactment of traumatic experience and violence of ethnoreligious strife in the middle belt of Nigeria. Nyam further developed the project during her TWAS research stay at Goethe Universität Frankfurt in 2018/19 in which she collaborated with the TFM institute. Another striking example of performance and speculative fiction is the series of tribunal performances staged by Swiss producer Milo Rau in Moscow (2013), Zurich (2013), or Bukavu (2015). These exemplify cases of political performance of alternative or utopian realities in order to create an affective drive toward political change.

To tackle these topics in the class-room environment, the TFM institute at the Goethe-Universität and the unit Culture & Media, Department of Social Work at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences (FUAS) want to build this series of seminars exploring questions of representation, construction of character and speculative fiction in hybrid modes of documentary film and performance. The seminars will combine the teaching of practical filmmaking skills and performance techniques, together with theoretical discussions about the concepts used in the fields of film and performance studies. These discussions will be based on the relevant literature and film screenings and will be in dialogue with the findings that the students will produce through practice-based research.

In the 1960s, the intensity and speed of the circulation of images, sounds, texts, iconographies, inside and outside the public sphere have highlighted the capacity of new media to polarize the world between actors and spectators. Guy Debord associated this redefinition of the political process with the notion of a society of the spectacle. Debord recognized the systematic and non-incidental aspects of the transformation of all spheres of experience into an image and pointed out how it dissolves lived experience into the spectacularization of social relations. Therefore, having a camera aimed at itself has become an “ontological privilege” that generates exhibitionist anxiety. This “camera effect” is an element that structures certain situations in which theatricality and performance are inevitable, and for Debord, what marks the society of the spectacle is the sharp opposition between the actors of the game and their passive spectators.

Cinema has thematized this logic in different ways, notably in documentaries, when it seeks alternatives for dealing with the camera effect and directing it towards the construction of subjects as characters. As proposed by Esther Hamburger, different films and television programs, in the record of fiction and documentary, express different forms of appropriation of the mechanisms which produce a representation, whose control is intertwined with the mechanisms reproducing social inequality. The visibility obtained by marginalized social subjects, systematically subjected to violence and misery, has relevance in contrast to the hegemonic forms of representation produced by the mass media. The challenge here is to produce a representation and a discourse which serves to emancipate these subjects, and not reify their condition as powerless victims of systemic violence. Thus, contrary to popular belief, the task of the documentary is not solely and exclusively to remove ordinary people from an undifferentiated domain to fix them on a framed particularity – to document them, but to offer them the chance to exhibit the simultaneous appearance of its multiple faces, irreducible to a proposition or a given content conforming with the narrative agenda of the filmmaker.

According to Jean Comolli, it would be up to film to promote the passage between two modes of individuation of the subjects into characters, two kinds of mise-en-scène: one that comes from habit, “a plot of learned gestures, acquired reflexes, postures assimilated” by subject, and that other that the subject constructs by placing himself in the space and time defined by the gaze of the other, or auto-mise-en-scène. How the film makes this relationship depends on the figuration of the subject filmed. This process is expressed within Hybrid documentaries inspired in narrative devices developed by Italian neo-realism as Docudramas, Docufictions and Mockumentaries. One example is the Docufiction “White out, Black in” (2014) from the Brazilian director Adirley Queirós. The original concept of the film was to be a documentary about police brutality and racism against the marginalized black community in Brazil. Initially, the subjects refused to participate in the documentary because the pain and the grief in dealing with these issues were overwhelming. They also did not want to be constructed as victims of structural racism, thus made to fit prevailing discourses about people on the margins of capitalist societies. Queirós then proposed them to make a sci-fi movie, based on their real-life stories and with documental material, but at the same time allowing them to perform a fictional script, speculating about a future scenario where they would be empowered to bring justice to the Brazilian state and create a rupture in the systemic violence they suffer daily.

Another example is the work of Portuguese director Pedro Costa, who cooperated closely with marginalized Cabo-Verdean migrants and drug users of the Fontainha slum in Lisbon to make a series of critically acclaimed films. In the films, they re-enact themselves in their daily lives, but not under a perspective of oppression, but of dignity, empowerment and resilience. Beyond the visibility achieved in the public arena – – which frames the dispute over identity representations, these films used narrative and performative strategies aiming to achieve an original expression, one where the subjects are given the opportunity for affirmative, which action reveals itself in front of the camera, from the conversation with the filmmaker and the confrontation with the gaze and the cinematic apparatus.

This idea of creating an event where subjects construct a narrative of empowerment is also explored in performance studies, especially in performances working within speculative fiction and fabulation. Particularly impressive is the concept of (P)reenactment developed by Cirzak et al. (2019). For the authors, (p)reenactment is a reenactment performance which not only revises or replicates a past event but orients itself toward an imagined future and experiments with a fictional time and space. This type of performance emphasizes the fundamental interconnectedness and interdependence of pro- and retrospection as well as the instability of each temporal perspective. Therefore, this entanglement of temporal layers forms an affectively charged situation that opens up a realm for subjects to speculate on new possibilities of being and attuning into the world. As (p)reenactments work to repeat or reinforce their current social relations, not only they may expose or question prevailing power relations, but also through the embodied performance they can experiment with alternatives bringing affective change to subvert these power structures.

The potential for (p)reenactment combined with speculative fiction and filmmaking lies not only into creating a new form of representation but also has been researched for its psychological and therapeutic capabilities, where children with PTSD create fictional characters of themselves and record their performances on film, watch them and recognize their projections of self displayed through the performance. Filmmaking and performance are also being used in conflict-resolution in a project devised by Esther Nyam of the Plateau State University at Bokkos, Nigeria, through the re-enactment of traumatic experience and violence of ethnoreligious strife in the middle belt of Nigeria. Nyam further developed the project during her TWAS research stay at Goethe Universität Frankfurt in 2018/19 in which she collaborated with the TFM institute. Another striking example of performance and speculative fiction is the series of tribunal performances staged by Swiss producer Milo Rau in Moscow (2013), Zurich (2013), or Bukavu (2015). These exemplify cases of political performance of alternative or utopian realities in order to create an affective drive toward political change.

To tackle these topics in the class-room environment, the TFM institute at the Goethe-Universität and the unit Culture & Media, Department of Social Work at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences (FUAS) want to build this series of seminars exploring questions of representation, construction of character and speculative fiction in hybrid modes of documentary film and performance. The seminars will combine the teaching of practical filmmaking skills and performance techniques, together with theoretical discussions about the concepts used in the fields of film and performance studies. These discussions will be based on the relevant literature and film screenings and will be in dialogue with the findings that the students will produce through practice-based research.

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